With this in mind, the €5 million ECSAFESEAFOOD project (Priority environmental contaminants in seafood: safety assessment, impact and public perception) was launched in Lisbon in February 2013.
The aim is to assess food safety issues related to priority contaminants present in seafood as a result of environmental contamination and to evaluate their impact on public health.
The progress in the first 12 months of this four-year pioneering project was reviewed during a recent coordination meeting in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, Spain.
The two-day meeting brought together members of the project's consortium which incorporates expertise in a range of food science disciplines, including ecotoxicology, biochemistry and seafood quality.
In the past year, the project partners have been working together to identify the main methodologies available to analyse priority contaminants and the effects they may have on seafood. Each of these methodologies requires a specific sampling protocol and careful coordination is needed.
Other recent work carried out includes a consumer survey, designed to help the partnership understand consumer preferences and concerns with regard to seafood safety.
Isabelle Sioen, of Ghent University, said: "We have collected nearly 3,000 survey responses from Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain. The results will contribute to defining what kind of information should be disseminated to the public in order to reduce public health risks from seafood consumption."
With the project entering its second year, two other consortium members expressed confidence that the research, funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme, will tackle and redress the existing knowledge gap and help boost consumer confidence in this sector.
Project coordinator Dr Antonio Marques said: "I am very happy with the development of the project. There are a lot of scientists involved and such coordination meetings are a good opportunity to bring all participants together and unite the efforts being made to achieve the objectives. These meetings are extremely productive and allow us to discuss results in more depth and plan future actions."
Dr Marques is a researcher at the division of aquaculture and seafood upgrading (DivAV) of the Instituto Português do Mar e da Atmosfera (IPMA) which is coordinating the consortium, comprising 18 partner organisations from 10 countries.
Further comment came from Isabelle Van Borm, of the European Commission's food and well-being unit, who said: "We are in an early stage of the project and it is too early to evaluate its results but I have great expectations. I am looking forward to seeing the project's results as they will contribute to increasing consumer confidence in European seafood."